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Where Aspens Quake



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About The Book

In this sweeping Rita Award-nominated Western romance, a woman leaves her old life behind to start over at a ski ranch run by a charismatic and mysterious owner.

The sorrow of loss. The magic of a new life. Award-winning author Tory Cates takes us to the snow-covered mountains to share in the start of a fresh love. . . .

Kristin Jonsson’s life in Albuquerque is falling apart— a critic pans her photographs, the gallery owner pulls her show, and her boyfriend proves to have no respect for her art or affection for her. Kristin, however, is determined to transform the wreckage into a wonderful opportunity. Quitting her mindless job as a graphic artist for an electronics firm, she heads for the high peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains as a cross-country ski instructor.

There she meets Grayson Lawrey, the ruggedly handsome resort owner, and his delightful company is like balm for her wounded spirits. Then, just as she is losing her heart to him, Gray turns away. Yet Kristin feels that their attraction was mutual and genuine. . . . Something deep, dark, and secret is haunting Gray, something Kristin must bring into the clear light of day before they can fully share their love.


Where Aspens Quake Chapter 1
Kristin turned off the ignition of her battered old Volvo station wagon and slumped down behind the steering wheel. Just getting this far, the parking lot of Albuquerque’s Old Town, had required a major effort of will, and the determination she had managed to generate was beginning to flag. With a sigh she hoisted herself out of the car.

She unfolded her five-foot, eleven-inch frame and stood up tall, or, to use a word her mother preferred to describe her height, statuesque, and erect. The slump was a posture Kristin found neither comfortable nor natural. Unlike a lot of tall women, she’d never been ashamed of her height and had never slouched to minimize it. She inhaled deeply and New Mexico’s air, alive with the magic of late autumn, worked a minor spell on her. A touch of the bouncy enthusiasm that was characteristic of her returned and, for the first time in two weeks, there was a spring, however slight, to her step as she ventured toward the plaza.

Once the heart of a frontier city, Albuquerque’s Old Town plaza now served as the focal point for arts-and-crafts fairs and fiestas and as a shady respite for weary tourists. The summer visitors had long since departed. Aside from a few withered cottonwood leaves rattling between the white wrought-iron benches and the bandstand, the plaza was deserted.

Kristin glanced desultorily into the windows of the shops ringing the plaza. Displays of sand paintings, postcards, and desert perfumes were so familiar that they made no more of an impression upon her than did the sight of Native American vendors, wrapped beneath woolly Pendleton blankets, their jewelry and other wares spread at their feet. A gust of wind funneled down the long portal running the length of the shops and swirled up her skirt. She grabbed at the billowing material and twisted around to hold it down. She ended up facing herself straight on in a shop window and at the sight came as close to laughing as she had in two weeks. Wearing a full denim prairie skirt, riding boots, a ruffled blouse with a black string tie at the throat, and a lined vest, she realized she looked like a cross between Annie Oakley and Annie Hall.

She sighed. So much for the old image. Not that it mattered now anyway.

Her mood of amused resignation held up halfway across the plaza, then abruptly dissolved as she confronted the Church of San Felipe de Neri. It was as magnificent as ever, its twin spires cutting patterns of stark white against a sky of such an achingly pure, deep blue that for a moment it made her yearn for the ability to dive up and swim through it. At least that was how its beauty had always affected Kristin. And that was what she had tried to convey in her photographs of the church, founded in 1706 in a hostile land by Franciscan fathers with dreams of spreading their cherished faith to a new world. The memory that her own, far more mundane, dream had shattered and that she was on her way now to pick up the pieces overran her like the fast-moving shadow of a hawk closing in on a baby chick. She crumpled onto a wrought-iron bench.

How much more of this can I take? she asked herself. Because it wasn’t just the church, it was a hundred and one spots in and around Albuquerque that were precious to her and that she’d tried to interpret on film. For the past two weeks, ever since Felicia Cliver’s review had appeared, she’d felt as if she were living in a minefield. Everywhere she turned, cruel reminders of the folly of her ambition waited to explode in her face and rip open the hurt once again.

The wind, which had seemed brisk and refreshing a moment before, now tore at her with a forlorn chill. Whether it was the wind or grief for a stillborn dream that brought stinging tears to her eyes, Kristin didn’t know or care. Tendrils of auburn hair escaped from the thick braid down her back and whipped at her face. As if by instinct, her gaze searched out and found the Sandia Mountains that cradled Albuquerque within their rocky grasp. They beckoned to Kristin, promising the comfort and escape she had always found skiing along a mountain trail. Never had she needed the peace and tranquility of a secluded, snow-frosted cross-country ski trail more than she did at that moment.

The tower bells tolled the noon hour. Kristin had taken an early lunch so that she could dash over to the gallery before the owner, Alana Moorington, made her daily afternoon appearance. The thought of a chance meeting with Alana spurred Kristin back into reluctant motion.

The gallery was set among a trendy cluster of shops on one of the roads that spoked off of the plaza. The last time she had been there was opening night. Where it once had been the object of her most intense professional longings—the best photography gallery in the city—she now approached it with something close to dread. The sign reading APERTURE GALLERY swung above the door in the early-November wind and was reflected in the gallery’s sidewalk-to-ceiling windows. Kristin could see Tracy, the gallery manager, directing the chaos that accompanied the hanging of a new show. Kristin recognized the color prints. They had been taken by a professor she had studied under at the university. She hoped sincerely that he would fare better than she had.

A bell tinkled as she pushed open the heavy wooden door carved with a camera-shutter design that resembled a blossoming flower. The gallery floor was covered with charcoal-gray industrial carpeting. The walls were a light oyster-gray, the color having been carefully chosen to enhance Kristin’s black-and-white exhibit. Now that a color show was replacing it, the walls were reverting to their original basic white. Track lights ran across the ceiling waiting to be refocused on the latest additions.

“Kristin, there you are,” Tracy called out. The gallery manager, a chubby young woman in paint-spattered jeans, left her two helpers whitewashing the walls. She started to hug Kristin, then pulled back with a laugh.

“I don’t imagine that white polka dots would do much for your outfit.”

Kristin faked what she hoped would pass for a hearty laugh. “Well, here I am. I’ve returned to the scene of the crime to pick up my ‘postcard renditions of life in a tourist’s landscape.’?” Kristin quoted the words from Felicia Cliver’s review with ease. They had been seared into her memory that awful morning following the opening of her one-woman show when she’d read them online before the paper was even printed. Tracy noticed the slight catch in her voice and the red-rimmed eyes that contradicted Kristin’s artificial smile.

“Come on into the back,” Tracy said, taking Kristin by the arm. “I’ll scrounge us up a cup of tea.”

“No, Trace,” Kristin tried to refuse. “You’ve got an opening tonight. I know you have a zillion things to do.”

“And I’ve been doing them and I need a break. This very instant to be precise.”

Kristin breathed in the orange-scented steam of the hot tea and remembered the frantic exhilaration of her own opening as she and Tracy had rushed to finish mounting all her photographs, then debated exactly where each one should be hung.

“Kristin.” Tracy’s voice was low and comforting. “I know this is probably silly advice and impossible to follow to boot, but don’t take it so hard.”

Kristin didn’t have to ask what “it” was. For the past two weeks, she’d been brooding over the scathing review of the first full-fledged exhibition of her photographs. Then, to compound the injury, Tracy had called her the day before to ask if she could come by and pick up her prints; Alana had booked in another show and was cutting hers short by a full two weeks.

“It’s good advice, Tracy,” Kristin agreed. “And I’m trying like the devil to follow it. Not to let this get me down any more than it already has. But it’s been hard, real hard.” Kristin hastily looked down into her mug as she felt the sting in her eyes that presaged the spill of tears. It was a feeling that had grown tediously familiar.

“Hey, it’s okay.” Tracy put a hand on Kristin’s shoulder.

Kristin attempted a feeble laugh. “This is ridiculous. I haven’t opened up the waterworks the way I’ve been doing for the past two weeks since my science fair project in junior high lost in the regional finals.” Kristin glanced up, a self-deprecating smile quivering on her lips. Serious again, she admitted, “I suppose it’s because I wanted this show to succeed so badly.”

“I feel partially responsible for everything,” Tracy said ruefully. “For how it all turned out.”

“Oh, Trace, why? Because you ‘discovered’ me? Talked Alana into giving me my own show? How were you to know I’d bomb?” Kristin congratulated herself for being able to utter that last word without any hint of puddling up.

“Kristin, you didn’t bomb,” Tracy demurred forcefully. “One, I repeat, one, lone critic didn’t like the show, and for God only knows what reasons.”

“Let me give you a few she supplied herself,” Kristin offered. “And I quote, ‘Kristin Jonsson’s gauzy landscapes and saccharine-sweet still lifes left this reviewer with a cloying aftertaste.’?”

“She was pretty brutal,” Tracy said softly, as if she could somehow buffer the harsh words with her gentle tone. “But that just proves that she didn’t really see what was in your photographs. She missed entirely what you were saying.”

“It wasn’t just her, Trace. Not one of my photos sold. The public agreed with the review. Alana had to close the show early or you would have gone bankrupt.”

“This gallery isn’t run to make money, you know that.”

Kristin was familiar with the real reasons behind the Aperture Gallery’s existence. First and foremost it was a tax write-off for Geoffrey Moorington, Alana’s husband. For Alana it was a way to one-up her friends. Owning a photo gallery had so much more cachet than modeling in Junior League charity fashion shows or being a docent at the Albuquerque Museum.

“Besides,” Tracy continued, “people are afraid to take a chance with any new artist until he or she is officially sanctioned.”

“And I obviously did not get the official sanction.”

“Kristin, I know that we haven’t been friends long, but I feel close to you. I suppose because you put so much of yourself into your work and it appealed to me the first time you brought your portfolio in. And it still does.” Tracy stopped and stared at Kristin to emphasize her sincerity.

Kristin was warmed and comforted by her support.

“Anyway, you’re taking this all a lot harder than I would have expected you to.”

Kristin was surprised at Tracy’s perceptiveness. She, Kristin, had always been noted for her bubbly optimism and resilience. Even in graduate school when she had received a blistering critique of her early work, she’d believed so strongly in what she was doing and in her own personal vision that she’d bounced right back, never deviating from the individual course she’d plotted for herself. But this, she reminded herself grimly, was the real world; this was where critiques started to matter, to direct the course of lives. She wasn’t frolicking in the sheltered groves of academe any longer.

“You’re right,” Kristin admitted. “I suppose I pinned too many hopes on this one show. But it’s what I’ve been working toward for years. I mean, I left everything—my friends, my family—when I came out here from Wisconsin to study photography, to be a ‘real’ photographer. Then, for the last two years since graduation, I’ve been doing hackwork during the day to make enough to buy materials to do my own work in my spare time and keep clinging to the illusion that I was a ‘real’ photographer. It just all came crashing down in one night.”

“Kristin, you’re talking like you’ve gone blind,” Tracy said with a touch of sternness. “Why are you any less of a photographer now than you were two weeks ago?”

“I know what you’re trying to do, Tracy, and I appreciate it. I really do. Intellectually I even agree with you. I’ve given myself a dozen pep talks and said just the same thing. And they work too, for a while, at least until I drive by that wall of graffiti on Central or see the neon signs at sunset compressed against the mountains or any of the other things I photographed. Then all the pep talks dissolve into this great big blobby, weepy feeling inside that I just haven’t been able to shake.”

Tracy nodded her head as if she finally understood the depth of Kristin’s distress. “Have you thought about leaving Albuquerque for a while?”

“Every day,” Kristin replied without hesitation. “Especially when I go to work and find out that I’m going to be creating bar graphs or photographing some new pressure valve all day. A slight hitch always comes up, though, whenever I consider any escape plan: My bank account stays perpetually in the slim two-figure category.”

“That probably won’t get you to the Bahamas.”

“Probably not.” The two women laughed conspiratorially. Kristin felt buoyed up, renewed, by the tea and Tracy’s good-natured banter.

“Don’t you have any friends you could stay with for a while?” Tracy picked up the thread of her inquiry again. “Any relatives you could stand for a short vacation?”

“I don’t think it would be a question of my being able to stand them,” Kristin countered. “I’ve been so dreary lately that I’m tired of being around myself. No, I really don’t think I’d make a terrifically charming houseguest.” She paused and an image surfaced in her mind, an image of a mountain, any mountain, beckoning with its promise of an icy-blue refuge. “You know what I’d really like?” Kristin began wistfully, knowing full well that she was only giving voice to yet another impossible dream. “To spend some time up in the mountains. Away from Albuquerque, away from everyone I know.” She dismissed the thought with a curt laugh as soon as she’d uttered it.

“But that would be the perfect solution,” Tracy protested.

“Perfect, except for the small matter of being able to feed and shelter myself,” Kristin reminded her.

“Aren’t there jobs at the ski areas? You do ski, don’t you?”

“Cross-country,” Kristin said. “That’s a completely different sport from downhill, which is just about all they do up in the Sandias.”

“There are other mountains in New Mexico. What about the Sangre de Cristos up north?”

“I’ve been up there hiking in the summer, but I’ve never done any skiing in that area. I have no idea how popular cross-country skiing is up there.”

“There’s a real easy way to find out,” Tracy said, turning away to dig through a pile of books and magazines heaped beside the table where she kept track of the gallery’s bookkeeping.

Kristin wanted to tell Tracy not to waste any more of her time with the silly notion, but it had obviously caught her fancy.

“Here it is.” Tracy enthusiastically dug out the latest copy of Around New Mexico, a guide to the state’s recreational facilities. “Let’s see, cross-country skiing, cross-country skiing,” she muttered, running a finger down the index. She flipped back through the pages and announced triumphantly, “Here you are, CROSS-COUNTRY SKIING, AREAS AND LODGES, SANGRE DE CRISTOS: THE TAOS HIGH COUNTRY LODGE, OWNER, GRAYSON LOWREY. Grayson Lowrey,” she mused. “I’ve heard that name before. Oh, right, now I remember. He owns Powderhorn Ski Valley and a couple of other smaller downhill resorts in the southern part of the state. Anyway,” Tracy said, returning to the business at hand, “what do you think?”

“About what?”

“About trying to find a job there. How long have you been cross-country skiing?”

“Gosh.” Kristin stammered as she mentally calculated the years. “Fifteen years, at least. I started in Wisconsin back in the days when the only people doing that kind of skiing were scoutmasters and Scandinavian immigrants who grew up cross-countrying back in Sweden and Norway. My father just happened to be both.”

“Great,” Tracy burst out as if the matter were decided, “you can instruct at this High Country Lodge.”

Kristin was dumbfounded. The last thing she’d anticipated when she’d walked in a few minutes before was to be considering a retreat to the Sangre de Cristos. Oddly enough, though, she couldn’t think of one solid objection to raise to Tracy’s unexpected suggestion. Certainly not her job; that was one of the chief contributors to her depression. And her relationship with Dennis Hascomb? For some time now she’d felt uneasy about it. There wasn’t anything she could specifically put her finger on. Dennis was invariably amusing and certainly generous when they went out. But there was something vaguely unsubstantial about what they shared—like a lovely, shiny sheet of thin ice that couldn’t bear any weight. It was an unsettling feeling that had grown worse over the past two critical weeks when Kristin had mostly wanted someone sturdy to lean on.

“Like I said, it would be the perfect solution.” Tracy continued to expand on her “perfect solution.” “You’d be away from Albuquerque, in a completely new environment. You wouldn’t be imposing on anyone. I can tell from your work that you love the outdoors. It would give you a chance to lick your wounds, recharge artistically, and come back with some new stuff that will knock Cliver’s socks off.”

Kristin felt like hugging Tracy, for her support went far beyond the polite words of encouragement her friends had been murmuring to her, friends like Dennis Hascomb. The difference was that Tracy clearly believed what she was saying. She really thought that Kristin could come back and knock Felicia Cliver’s Dior pantyhose off.

Kristin was trying to frame the words to express her appreciation when Tracy glanced at her watch. “Oh Lord, look at the time. Alana will be here any minute and I haven’t finished half of what I should have done by now. And you had better get back to work yourself. You don’t want to lose the job you already have before you’ve even decided if you’re ready for a new one.”

“How right you are,” Kristin agreed. “The head of the graphics department is a bureaucrat to the core. He thinks if he lets any of the bohemian artist types that work for him get away with anything, even being five minutes late from lunch, we’ll all just kick over the traces and start using nude models in his electronics catalogs or Day-Glo paints on the sales charts.”

Smiling, Tracy led the way to a back room where Kristin’s photographs were neatly stacked in upright bins. “If you’d like,” she volunteered, “I can get one of the guys to haul these out to your car for you.”

“No, thanks.” Kristin refused the generous offer. It was rare that anyone ever assumed that someone of her height could use a helping hand, particularly when that person was as overburdened as Tracy was at the moment. “You need all your manpower now. I’ve kept you long enough. Just unlock the back door and I’ll pull around. It’ll be a cinch then to load them up.”

“Deal,” Tracy agreed, unlocking the door. “I’d better get back out there before they decide to whitewash Professor Collins’s prints. I’ll call you later this afternoon.”

“Thanks,” Kristin said, holding Tracy’s eyes with her own gray-streaked green ones. “Thanks for everything.”

Tracy flapped a hand at her, dismissing Kristin’s gratitude. Kristin hurried back across the plaza to her car and brought it around to the gallery’s alley entrance. Though she tried to take Tracy’s advice and not dwell on her failure, the inevitable glimpses that Kristin caught of her photographs started a complicated brew of emotions percolating through her.

As she carefully transferred to the blanket-covered back of her station wagon the first batch of the sixteen-by-eleven-inch gelatin silver prints that she had so meticulously created from actual black-and-white film that she’d developed herself, she felt like a mother who’s been called in because her child has been acting up at school. The prints were her children and, according to at least one authority figure, they’d behaved badly. On that score they had publicly humiliated her. But on a deeper level, a level that even Kristin herself was not yet fully aware of, she still believed more in her artistic offspring than in the opinion of the authority figure. Like the loyal mother, in her heart of hearts she stood behind her children. Kristin was taking out the second load when the studiedly cultured voice reached her ears.

“Oh, Andrew, these are simply exquisite.” It was Alana Moorington. Kristin guessed that “Andrew” must be Professor Andrew Collins, whose work was being put on display.

“Your use of negative form is absolutely inspired,” Alana raved on.

If the sound of Alana’s voice hadn’t depressed her so much, Kristin might have laughed. “Use of negative form” indeed; that was precisely what the gallery owner had said to her after Tracy had brought her work to Alana’s attention and recommended that Kristin be given her own show. The lavish shower of praise had abruptly dried up, though, when Felicia Cliver publicly disagreed with the opinion that Kristin Jonsson had a shred of talent. What an embarrassment that must have been for Alana, Kristin thought, with something approaching glee. Here the poor woman had devoted her life to being a trendsetter, then was found guilty in print of harboring such a master of the gauche as herself.

“And back here is storage space where you can . . .” Alana breezed into the back room with Professor Collins under her chicly tailored wing. “Uh, why, hello . . .”

“Kristin.” Kristin supplied her name rather than allow Alana to fumble any further for it, even though it had been just a few weeks since she was the one being given the owner-guided tour of the Aperture Gallery. “Hello, Professor Collins.” Kristin smiled pleasantly at her former instructor.

The short, bespectacled art professor nodded a greeting at her with the same sort of awkwardness people display around someone who’s just had a death in the family.

Of course, Kristin thought, he thinks my career, or any hope I had of a “real” art career, died with Felicia Cliver’s venomous review. “I was just clearing out here,” Kristin said in a statement of the obvious. Hurriedly, she gathered up her few remaining prints.

“Good luck with your show, Professor Collins,” she said, pausing beside the door.

“Oh, yeah, sure, thanks,” came the stammered reply. Alana stood beside him, a haute couture fashion model’s haughty smile frozen on her lips.

The worst is over. Kristin forced herself to keep repeating that thought as she drove back to her office. The worst is over. She chanted the words like an incantation to ward off the tears building once again behind her eyes. She was sick of weeping, sick of humiliation. She was not a weeper or a groveler and neither Felicia Cliver nor Alana Moorington would reduce her to either. The healthy glow of anger dried her tears. Unfortunately, the route back to her office took her past several of the scenes she’d tried to interpret on film.

It’s just not fair, Kristin thought. Every time she started to reconstruct her defenses, the city launched a sneak attack on her. She wondered if recovering from a love affair was this painful and assumed that the feeling a spurned lover had when she saw all the places where she’d gone with her ex was probably similar. She assumed but couldn’t really say because, while her tall, titian-haired good looks had always assured her of ample male company, no one man had ever emerged as a serious threat to her first love: her art.

* * *

Mr. Pershing looked pointedly at his watch as Kristin entered the office with GRAPHIC ARTS DIVISION stenciled on the door. She was five minutes late. Her supervisor gave her a sour look as she headed to her cubicle at the back of the long, open room. The Graphic Arts Division was part of a large electronics firm and, when she’d first started work two years before, each artist had had his or her own office with a door that actually shut. When Mr. Pershing took over a few months later, however, he’d had all the partitions ripped out and a warren of doorless cubicles installed so that he could keep an eye on his staff at all times.

Knowing that Mr. Pershing’s eyes and scowl were following her back to her cubicle, Kristin quickly put away her purse and sat down behind her oversized monitor to continue working on a map of all the electronics firm’s retail outlets. A technical illustrator had quit two months before and never been replaced; instead, her workload had simply been added to Kristin’s. She added several southwestern states and dotted them with the silver stars that represented retail outlets.

While her well-practiced hands moved and clicked the mouse fluidly to produce a neat, attractive bit of graphic art, her mind whirled over other thoughts. She reflected on the irony of a person like herself training for years to develop a talent for self-expression, then ending up putting stars on charts to be used by some vice president she would never meet for a sales presentation she would never hear. The phone beside her computer buzzed. The company operator informed her that she had a call on line five. Kristin cradled the receiver between her ear and shoulder so that she could still work as she talked, then pushed the appropriate button on her phone.

“How’d it go at Aperture?” It was Dennis Hascomb, the man Kristin had been dating for nearly a year.

“It wasn’t an experience I’d like to relive every day,” she answered, keeping her voice low so that the artist on the other side of the plastic partition couldn’t overhear her conversation, “but I managed to retrieve my prints.”

“Did you run into Alana?”


Dennis was just starting out in the law firm owned by Geoffrey Moorington and he thrived on any details about his boss’s wife. Listening to the eagerness in his voice, it suddenly struck Kristin that Dennis had generally thrived on all the details of her failed exhibit.

“Well, thank God, it’s all over, right?” he asked, seeking her confirmation.

“The exhibit is most definitely down,” Kristin answered, slightly put off by Dennis’s enthusiasm.

“Now, maybe we can start seeing each other like normal people.”

“Were we so abnormal before?” Kristin queried.

“You know what I mean, Kris. You were so caught up in this photography thing that you were either in the darkroom or down on Central stopping traffic so you could get exactly the right exposure on a wall full of graffiti. That’s not my idea of normal,” Dennis concluded, a tinge of self-righteousness spiking his words.

“And you think that all my ‘photographic abnormality’ should end now, right?”

Warned by the hint of indignation in Kristin’s voice, Dennis said soothingly, “Listen, Kris, you had your shot at it, at what you call ‘serious’ photography. Why would you want to keep banging your head against the wall? It doesn’t appear that it’s going to happen for you.”

Kristin had an unearthly sense of feeling herself disappear. It was as if she’d known and shared herself with another person for a whole year and he had completely missed the most essential component of her being. She had fallen through the thin ice of their relationship.

“And what do you think should happen for me?” she asked, a tremor quirking her pulse.

After a pause for reflection, Dennis answered as soberly as the judge he intended to be one day. “I guess it’s pretty obvious what I’ve been building up to with you. I mean, I’ve put in a major investment of time with you; it should be fairly clear that I’m looking at a long-range commitment. Provided, of course, that you’re over your photography phase.”

Kristin felt her stomach lurch. “My photography phase?” Her amazed disbelief was clear as she echoed Dennis’s words.

“Come on, don’t be offended. I know you take your work seriously, but so do I. These past few months haven’t been a bed of roses for me either, you know. I mean, everyone down here at the firm knows we’re dating. How do you think it looks for my girlfriend to be publicly panned like you were?”

Kristin dropped all pretense that she was working. “I don’t know, Dennis, how does it look?” Her voice was cool and even.

“Pretty sorry, to be blunt about it. No one, but especially not an attorney, can afford to be associated with a loser.” Hastily, he added, “I’m not saying that you’re a loser, Kris, you know that. I’d never consider marrying a loser.”

“Or someone with abnormal fixations on being a serious photographer. I guess I’m out on two counts then. Thanks for considering me. I think I’ll withdraw my application. Good-bye, Dennis.” With utmost delicacy, Kristin replaced the receiver. Mechanically, she went about finishing the charts while her mind reeled from the phone call.

This has definitely not been one of my better days, she thought with a numbed kind of detachment. The image of herself alone on a trail deep in the serene heart of a snowy forest appeared in her mind, a mental mirage of the oasis she yearned for now more than ever. The phone buzzed again. Kristin figured that it was Dennis calling back with a lawyerly explanation, an explanation that she no longer had any desire to hear.

Kristin opened Google and searched for the number of the Taos High Country Lodge. She hastily grabbed her own phone and was punching in the number listed for the lodge when she glanced up and found Mr. Pershing scrutinizing her, a severe look of disapproval creasing his pinched features. Kristin quickly hung up and Mr. Pershing strode into her cubicle.

“Kristin,” he began in an acid tone, “if you would be so kind as to conduct your personal affairs on your own time and to confine your lunches to the allotted amount of time, I’m sure you’ll get a lot more accomplished. Have you finished those charts yet?”

He moved to her monitor to ascertain for himself the answer to his question. Kristin fumbled to close the lodge’s website. Instead, she accidentally closed her graphics program and the charts disappeared before she could save her work.

Kristin gasped, genuinely shocked that she’d inadvertently lost most of a day’s work. More than anything else this latest symptom of the emotional turmoil she was undergoing alarmed her.

Her boss had noticed her error and was quick to berate her for it. “Why did you do that? Kristin, you need to get your head back in this game. You’ve had your opportunity for ‘creative expression.’?”

Another reference to her unsuccessful exhibit. How long would she have to put up with them?

Mr. Pershing continued in his tightly controlled, precise voice. “Productivity in this division has been way down for the past couple of months and a good bit of the reason for that has been your distraction.”

“That is unfair,” Kristin protested.

Mr. Pershing was stunned into silence for a moment; this was the first time Kristin had ever spoken back to him.

“The reason productivity is down is because we’re short three artists. And the reason that it’s not down even further than it is is because the other artists and I have been doing our work and the work of the three artists we’re short.”

“Is that so?” Mr. Pershing retorted peevishly.

Kristin knew that she had just destroyed any chance she might ever have for a raise, a promotion, or any kind of humane treatment as long as Pershing ruled Graphic Arts. He was a vindictive man who never forgot the slightest offense and she knew she had just offended him.

Kristin had watched the way he’d picked at anyone who affronted his thin-skinned sensibilities, hounding and overworking them until the hours from eight to five became unbearable. That was why the last three artists to leave had quit. It had been two months since Pershing had had a target for his nastiness. In a flash of insight, Kristin knew that if she stayed, she would become his next scapegoat. With equal clarity she tallied up the reasons she had for staying and came up with a balance of zero. Tracy was right; whether it was the ski-instructing job or something else, she needed to leave Albuquerque, to get away from all the reminders of her defeat, to recharge artistically, spiritually, and in every other way possible.

“I asked you a question, Jonsson,” Mr. Pershing said threateningly. “You aren’t answering it.”

So it was “Jonsson” now. Kristin’s suspicion was confirmed—she was already being marked as Pershing’s next victim. Slowly, Kristin got to her feet and began pulling her prints off the cubicle wall. She stuffed them into the large tote she carried. They were followed by her personal art supplies, her coffee mug decorated with a ring of dancing bears, and a small African violet. Finally she turned to Pershing.

“I am answering your question, Mr. Pershing,” Kristin said as she maneuvered around him with her large sack.

“What is the meaning of this?” he sputtered.

“Surely my actions are graphic enough for you,” Kristin responded, somewhat pleased with her little pun and with the considerable style she’d just displayed in quitting.

Still, she thought as she stowed her tote bag alongside the rejected prints in the back of her car, this has definitely not been one of my better days.

About The Author

Tory Cates is a Rita Award nominee who lives in Texas.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Pocket Books (March 25, 2014)
  • Length: 304 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781476732572

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"An abundance of emotionally demanding scenes, one after another."

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